Pork shoulder is an affordable cut that’s often sold in large portions. This makes it an excellent choice for the grill or smoker, particularly if you’ll be hosting a lot of guests. In this guide, we’ll tell you everything you ever wanted to know about smoking boneless pork shoulder.
Smoking Boneless Pork Shoulder
Pork shoulder, also known as picnic shoulder, is taken from the area just above the foreleg of the hog, beneath the portion known as the butt. A boneless pork shoulder should cook for 1 to 1-1/2 hours per pound in a 225-degree smoker.
Pork Shoulder vs. Pork Butt: What’s The Difference?
Pork butt and pork shoulder are both cut from the front of the hog, just above the foreleg. Interestingly enough, the butt is located higher up, in the area that resembles the shoulder of the animal. The portion we call the shoulder, meanwhile, can be found just below it, around the top of the thigh.
These cuts are naturally tough, with a great deal of fat. As a result, they both benefit from low-and-slow cooking processes. When they’re cooked for a long time at a low temperature, the fat has a chance to render and tenderize the meat. That’s why many pitmasters select the butt when making pulled pork.
While the pork shoulder has a generous fat cap, it contains less of the intramuscular fat known as marbling. It also has an uneven, vaguely triangular shape, whereas the butt has a more streamlined rectangular appearance. As a result, the shoulder may not cook as evenly as the butt.
It’s also worth noting that the shoulder is usually sold with the skin on. That makes it a good fit for recipes that call for extra-crispy pork skin.
Can you substitute pork shoulder for pork butt, and vice versa? In most cases, this is permissible if you can’t find the one you’re looking for. However, for best results, try to buy the cut of meat that the recipe calls for.
Finally, be aware that some butchers may sell the shoulder and butt together, labeled as a whole pork shoulder. These typically weigh about 12 to 14 pounds. The lower portion is sometimes called the picnic shoulder, while the upper section is called the butt.
Can You Smoke a Boneless Pork Shoulder?
Absolutely. As long as you plan ahead (see How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Boneless Pork Shoulder?, below), you can use the smoker to prepare boneless pork shoulder any time you’d like.
Since crispy skin is one of the hallmarks of good smoked pork shoulder, you’ll want to leave most of it intact. However, it’s fine to trim some of it off, especially if it gives the cut a more uniform shape. You can carve away some of the fat cap as well. Just don’t overdo it, or the pork might be too dry when it’s finished cooking.
How Long Does it Take to Smoke a Boneless Pork Shoulder?
A boneless pork shoulder should cook for about 1 to 1-1/2 hours per pound if your smoker is set to 225-250 degrees Fahrenheit. Since the average picnic shoulder weighs in at around 6 to 8 pounds, you should plan on smoking the meat for 6 to 12 hours.
Should you opt to trim some of the fat and skin from the pork shoulder, we would recommend weighing it again afterward. This will give you a better estimate in terms of cooking time. When you’re dealing with a large cut like this one, it can be hard to pin down an exact figure, but having an accurate weight to go by will make things easier.
Does Boneless Pork Shoulder Cook Faster Than Bone-In?
In many cases, a boneless cut will cook faster than its bone-in counterparts. Boneless chicken breasts, for example, cook very quickly compared to bone-in breasts. With pork shoulder, however, the difference is negligible.
That said, a bone-in pork shoulder might end up taking longer to cook simply because the bone will add to the overall weight. You can also cut a boneless picnic shoulder into smaller pieces, which will cook faster than a huge chunk of meat would. Keep that in mind when you’re shopping, especially if you have a time constraint.
Boneless vs Bone In Pork Shoulder: Which Is Better?
As we’ve pointed out, buying a boneless cut may save you time. But is there any other reason to opt for boneless over bone-in, or vice versa?
If you’re planning to slice the meat when it’s done, boneless is your best bet. It’s easier to carve uniform slices without a bone in the way. Even if you’re planning on shredding the pork, a boneless cut will result in less waste.
Some pitmasters prefer bone-in cuts so they can test for doneness by wiggling the bone toward the end of the cooking time. If it moves around easily, the pork has probably reached the optimal temperature. Bear in mind, though, that this method is no substitute for a reliable instant-read meat thermometer.
Another thing to remember is that the bone contributes a welcome flavor boost to the cooked pork. The meat will also retain more moisture, giving it an appealing juicy texture. As a bonus, the price per pound might be less than what you’d pay for a boneless pork shoulder.
In short, a boneless pork shoulder will cost more money, but you’ll get more bang for your buck. When you opt for bone-in, you may save a few bucks and get more flavor, but your total meat yield will be a bit less.
Smoked Boneless Pork Shoulder Recipe
Serves: 8-10 people
For the Rub
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 2 teaspoons garlic powder
- 2 teaspoons ground cumin
For the Pork
- 1 boneless pork shoulder roast (may be labeled “picnic shoulder”), 6-8 pounds
- About 1/2 cup yellow mustard
1. Set your smoker to 225 degrees Fahrenheit. If your smoker tends to run on the cooler side, try setting the temperature to 250 degrees to start.
2. Make the rub by combining all the ingredients in a small bowl.
3. Trim the pork shoulder, if desired, and set it on a rimmed baking sheet. Pat the entire surface dry with paper towels.
4. Lightly coat the pork shoulder with an even layer of mustard. Apply the rub, making sure that the mixture adheres to the entire surface. If desired, you can use a spoon to ensure an even coating.
5. Place the pork on the cooking grate with the fat side up if the heat comes from above, and fat side down if the heat source is located below the grate.
6. Close the lid and smoke the pork for 1 to 1-1/2 hours per pound, or until the internal temperature reaches 195 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.
Tip: If you’d like to enlist the “Texas crutch” to help the pork shoulder power through the stall, pull the meat when it reaches 160 degrees. Wrap the roast in foil or butcher paper and return it to the grill until the thermometer reads 195 degrees when inserted into the center. Removing the wrapping a bit earlier will help to ensure crispy skin.
7. When the pork is done, remove it from the smoker and wrap it in a double layer of foil. Let it rest for at least 1 hour.
8. After the resting period, unwrap the pork, taking care to reserve any juices that are left behind in the foil. If you notice any fat that hasn’t rendered, trim it away now.
9. Slice or shred the pork, then top with the reserved juices. Serve at once.
The Bottom Line
If you’ve made smoked pork butt before, smoking a boneless pork shoulder should be a breeze. While the texture of the finished product won’t be exactly the same, the cooking process is almost identical. The key is to keep the smoker at a low temperature so that the fat will render and the skin will have a chance to crisp up.